Area Studies is the New Philology

Knowledge production continuously transforms alongside changes in society and technology. At times, however, societal and technological changes are so profound that forms of knowledge that had previously been considered of central importance get displaced by new ways of knowing.

We are currently living in such a time of profound social and technological change (think globalization and the Digital Revolution), and area studies is a realm of knowledge production that is losing its position of previously held importance.

Interestingly, were we to look back at the rise of area studies in the decades following World War II, another time of profound change (think decolonization and the Cold War), we would find that area studies at that time itself replaced an earlier way of investigating and knowing the world: philology (the study of literary texts).

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The Digital Age World Does Not Need Southeast Asian Studies – And That’s the Problem

Today I stumbled across an article by historian Thongchai Winichakul on “Southeast Asian Studies in the Age of STEM Education and Hyper-Utilitarianism.” Being a fan of Thongchai’s work on Thai history, and seeing that this essay covers a topic that I’m always interested in – Southeast Asian Studies in the current (digital) age – I decided to read it.

It is no secret that the world of area studies in general, and the humanities in particular, are not faring well these days. What I find problematic is that in discussing this issue many academics simply try to argue that area studies (or history or the humanities, etc.) is important because it promotes/teaches critical thinking or certain knowledge that leads to a more meaningful life.

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History is Ending. . .

As a blog that has the word “history” in its title, I think we need to pause and talk a little bit about that word, because it’s in the news again. Let me explain.

I used to serve as an undergraduate advisor for a History Department in the US, and in that capacity, I saw that starting around 2012 the number of students majoring in History started to decline rapidly. That decline continued for about 5 years, until the number of majors was around 50% what it had once been.

This same decline in History majors has taken place at universities all across America (and I’m sure in other parts of the world too), and historian Benjamin M. Schmidt has just published a new article about this topic.

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What the Internet Can Tell us about the Field of Asian Studies

Anyone who has visited my flash blog about the need to transform Asian Studies for the digital age (Content Asian Studies) or who has read my piece in the Mekong Review on the decline of Asian Studies knows that I think a lot about the changes that are taking place in the world today (the rise of the Internet, the decline of the Humanities, etc.) and how those changes affect those of us who work in the field of Asian Studies.

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Crude History: Fan Boy Jo and the Beat of the Nation

Continuing my effort to experiment with different ways that we can use digital media to engage with the past, I tried to make a version of “drunk history.” For those who don’t know, Drunk History is an American comedy series in which a supposedly intoxicated narrator talks about an episode from American history, using rather crude language. This narrative is interspersed with acted out scenes in which the actors all mouth the words that the drunk narrator says. Following this model, I tried to make something similar. I don’t have actors, so it is not as elaborate as Drunk History, … Continue reading Crude History: Fan Boy Jo and the Beat of the Nation

Hồ Chí Minh, Wikipedia, Blogs and Knowledge Production in the Digital Age

One of the reasons why I decided to start writing this blog back in 2010 was in order to share some of the things that I knew and thought, but which I realized I would never include in my academic writings. Scholars/professors acquire a lot of knowledge and insights over the years from engaging in research and teaching that never make it into their academic writings. What is more, in the past there were very few ways for scholars/professors to share that information so that it could end up educating more people. A scholar/professor might share some of those ideas … Continue reading Hồ Chí Minh, Wikipedia, Blogs and Knowledge Production in the Digital Age

Shit People Say About [Country Name] History – or, History in the Age of YouTube

A decade or so ago, whenever I was preparing to teach a class in a course that I had already taught a few times, I would always spend time on the Internet, Googling for any new information (in the form of articles, books, or online content) pertaining to the topic I was going to teach about that day. These days I find that I spend more and more time looking for new information and material on YouTube. This then made me realize something: instead of just taking material from YouTube and incorporating it into classes, historians should create content for … Continue reading Shit People Say About [Country Name] History – or, History in the Age of YouTube

Crowdsourcing the Hồng Đức bản đồ

There are quite a few libraries these days that are using a technique called “crowdsourcing” to transcribe and digitize manuscripts that they have in their collections. Essentially what libraries are doing are setting up web pages that allow anyone to read and transcribe the pages of a manuscript (i.e., they are asking a “crowd” of people to be a “source” of help). I have set up such a web page to try to transcribe the Hồng Đức bản đồ. This is an experiment, and the web site seems to run a bit slowly (xin thông cảm), but hopefully it will … Continue reading Crowdsourcing the Hồng Đức bản đồ